Writers' and Artists' Faces And Demeanours
January 2, 2004 10:06 AM   Subscribe

How I Met And Dated Miss Emily Dickinson: Have you ever wondered what a favourite writer really looked like? Is there any relationship between an artist's face and their art? Hemingway looks like his prose; Ezra Pound like his poetry; Picasso is a dead ringer for his paintings but, say, John Updike doesn't resemble his fiction; T.S.Eliot looks like a bank clerk and Matisse was nothing like his works. How superficial can you get? [Via Arts and Letters Daily.]
posted by MiguelCardoso (27 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Stephen King. Need I say more?
posted by pedantic at 10:09 AM on January 2, 2004

How about Samuel Beckett?
posted by josh at 10:23 AM on January 2, 2004

I found the article itself quite interesting - I hadn't realized there was such importance associated with her image. I'm amazed at the lengths the photo owner took to try to have the picture authenticated. Thanks for posting this, MC.
posted by FormlessOne at 10:27 AM on January 2, 2004

Miguel, the questions presented in your post set aside, this is a wonderful, fascinating article on the history of this image and its importance to the new owner. With all the emphasis today on disposable society I sometimes wonder if images of next Dickinson will be even more fleeting....
posted by anastasiav at 10:47 AM on January 2, 2004

I think it's kind of funny they did their facial analysis in Photoshop. Eyeballing the two close-up photos in that scan of the analysis, I don't think it's the same woman at all. I mean, even taking into account growth, getting fat, whatever, usually I feel a spark of recognition, but these just look like two different people to me, who have similar features.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 11:05 AM on January 2, 2004

Big Fat Tycoon, I think you're right about that photo. It's close, but no cigar. I would project the Emily Dickinson in the authenticated photo to have gotten a lot uglier and more gnarly looking with age, whereas the purported likeness shows her getting smoother and rounder. Didn't the one, rare male visitor who commented on her appearance in mid life describe her as small and plain? As far as ugly writers are concerned, there is no question that both Stephen King and Garrison Keillor should be their hideous, massive nut-cracking jaws, and piggish little eyes out of camera range whenever possible. On the other hand, America's best, youngish writer (under 50) Michael Chabon, is quite a handsome chap.
posted by Faze at 11:19 AM on January 2, 2004

Emily Dickinson....her madness flows as DNA, through my veins with each heartbeat. Oh Emily, Emily!
posted by troutfishing at 11:24 AM on January 2, 2004

I sometimes wonder if images of next Dickinson will be even more fleeting....
nah. you just wait for the hoolywwodization of the whole thing -- "Emily". With Gwyneth Paltrow, of course.
Dickinson ends up having sweaty, illicit sex with Thomas Wentworth Higginson (Ashton Kutcher).
Directed by Joel Schumacher, of course

Tycoon and Faze, I too think that the woman in the photo is not Dickinson.
and anyway author's photos can be very unreliable -- Jonathan Franzen, say, or Donna Tartt, in RL don't exactly look like their book jacket author photos.

trout, are you related to Dickinson????

Miguel, the questions presented in your post set aside,

posted by matteo at 11:26 AM on January 2, 2004

OK, since we're discussing Dickinson, I've always loved Higginson's description of her handwriting:

The letter was postmarked "Amherst," and it was in a handwriting so peculiar that it seemed as if the writer might have taken her first lessons by studying the famous fossil bird-tracks in the museum of that college town. Yet it was not in the slightest degree illiterate, but cultivated, quaint, and wholly unique. Of punctuation there was little; she used chiefly dashes, and it has been thought better, in printing these letters, as with her poems, to give them the benefit in this respect of the ordinary usages; and so with her habit as to capitalization, as the printers call it, in which she followed the Old English and present German method of thus distinguishing every noun substantive. But the most curious thing about the letter was the total absence of a signature. It proved, however, that she had written her name on a card, and put it under the shelter of a smaller envelope inclosed in the larger; and even this name was written--as if the shy writer wished to recede as far as possible from view--in pencil, not in ink. The name was Emily Dickinson. Inclosed with the letter were four poems, two of which have been already printed, (...)

*walks away from thread, verklempt*

posted by matteo at 11:38 AM on January 2, 2004

Interesting story, Miguel. Thanks. [O/T: By the way, Miguel, why do not include actual links in your "via" line?]
posted by monju_bosatsu at 12:02 PM on January 2, 2004

Facinating article, thanks for the link. I agree with Faze and Tycoon: I don't think the two photos are of the same person. Even taking into account the postural differences, the shapes of the faces seem very different. And there's a spark to the eyes of the known image that is lacking in the eBay photo. I instinctively *like* one of these people, and not the other. Weird.
posted by macinchik at 12:08 PM on January 2, 2004

matteo - yes. That whole branch of my family, on my father's side......they're all nutty as hatters! - All poets, recluses, clock tinkerers, ministers, freaks of all shape and description......
posted by troutfishing at 12:13 PM on January 2, 2004

And I blame Emily Dickinson.
posted by troutfishing at 12:14 PM on January 2, 2004

I'm impressed.
posted by matteo at 12:17 PM on January 2, 2004

So, troutfishing -- I don't suppose you have any unpublished photos of great-great-great aunt Emily lurking in a dusty drawer anywhere, do you?
posted by anastasiav at 12:37 PM on January 2, 2004

Good stuff. Thanks for the post.
posted by yerfatma at 1:26 PM on January 2, 2004

Emily Dickinson's great-great-great-great grandfather's nephew's great-great grandson married my great-great grandfather's aunt. I think.

Also, here is the Emily Dickinson random epigram machine.
posted by eddydamascene at 1:45 PM on January 2, 2004

[this is enthralling]
posted by Vidiot at 1:57 PM on January 2, 2004

matteo - I bet there are about 5,000 famous people in your family tree - dig far back enough, and it's a statistical certainty. And look at that! eddydamascene and I are distant relatives, it seems...

It's a small world.
posted by troutfishing at 2:01 PM on January 2, 2004

Well, it is a Well Known Fact(tm) that every white person alive has the blood of Charlemagne in his veins.

I'm not convinced either way as to the authenticity of that photograph, though I think the spark Machinchik mentioned might just be an artefact of the mood she was in at the time. And Faze, the photos were, at least according to the clothing details mentioned in the article, probably no more than ten years apart, with the "authentic" one showing Emily in the grips of tuberculosis. (If the eBay photo was taken in the 1850's, though, why is "December, 1886" written on the back?)

I'm kind of fascinated by the cultural impact of a discovery like this (if, of course, it's authentic.) I rarely think of what writers look like, to tell the truth, but I'm reminded of the stir caused when a second photo of bluesman Robert Johnson turned up. Particularly when you contrast it with the media saturation enjoyed by most celebrities. A hundred years from now, will people be eagerly debating the authenticity of a photo of Thomas Pynchon or J.D. Salinger?
posted by arto at 3:03 PM on January 2, 2004

If the eBay photo was taken in the 1850's, though, why is "December, 1886" written on the back?

from here:
"....in pencil on the verso in nineteenth-century hand, "Emily Dickinson/Died/r[?]ec[ieved?]/1886 [the year she died]." Some people see the word "Dec" instead of "rec" and think it may mean "December." This may be, but if so, it might indicate the month in which the image was received, for she died in May. "
posted by gluechunk at 5:54 PM on January 2, 2004

Er, and also from that page above:

"In the March 3, 1898 issue of the Hampshire Gazette, in an article about the "Todd-Dickinson Court Case," it is noted, erroneously, that Dickinson died on December 16, 1886, a possible explanation for why whoever had this image penned "Dec.", if that is indeed the word."
posted by gluechunk at 5:57 PM on January 2, 2004

Or it could be an indicator of when the original daguerreotype was copied. I think that new photo may very well be a picture of Emily Dickinson - they look like the same person to me, and the clothing was dated to indicate that the two daguerreotypes were taken within five years of each other - which is why she hasn't aged much, and in fact, has filled out slightly from her teenaged photo.
posted by annathea at 7:16 PM on January 2, 2004

They look like the same person to me. More of a visceral reaction than anything. Fascinating, either way. Bravo, Migs!
posted by Optamystic at 9:09 PM on January 2, 2004

Great post Miguel - it was a wonderful read, very interesting.
And yes, sometimes author portraits aren't quite what you expect.
posted by madamjujujive at 12:34 AM on January 3, 2004

I'm willing to believe they're the same person. I've gained some weight myself since college, and I think I look quite different now.

Both the images are mesmerizing. Does anyone else think they have a certain creepy and sepulchral quality? I can't decide whether I think so because they really do, or because I'm projecting my knowledge of Dickinson and the Victorian era onto what I see.
posted by halonine at 2:28 AM on January 3, 2004

Fascinating story, Miguel.
posted by planetkyoto at 3:08 PM on January 4, 2004

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